Nolte: The 7 Greatest Horror Movie Remakes of All Time

Nolte: The 7 Greatest Horror Movie Remakes of All Time

The list of terrible remakes is endless, so let’s focus on the positive — on the seven greatest horror remakes of all time.

  • Dawn of the Dead (2004)
  • In the early days of the Internet, there was a lot of talk about how remakes were RAPING MY CHILDHOOD! But Father Time, art’s only reliable gatekeeper, has proven bad remakes disappear forever (and almost all remakes are bad), and the good ones take nothing away from the original.

    George Romero’s original 1978 masterpiece has nothing to fear from any remake or any horror film. It is untouchable in its gory, thematic perfection. Nevertheless, in his directorial debut, Zack Snyder took the brilliant Romero concept of Zombie Apocalypse survivors finding refuge in a shopping mall and directed the living hell out of it.

    The opening sequence is a stunner, the fast-moving zombies add significantly to the tension, and some added ideas from screenwriter James Gunn work beautifully (the guy across the street trapped and in a gun store). In contrast, others are kind of silly (baby zombie).

    A great time at the movies.

  • The Blob (1988)
  • A flop in its day, I’ve been championing this gem for 33 years.

    Other than the presence of Steve McQueen and how it captures suburban America in the idyllic ’50s, there’s not much to offer in the original 1958 version. Yet, somehow, 30 years later, director Chuck Russell and his co-screenwriter, Frank Darabont, took a ridiculous concept and made it work.

    The cast is uniformly excellent — Kevin Dillon, Candy Clark, Shawnee Smith, and especially Joe Seneca, and the plot contains one of the greatest head fakes of all time. The screenwriters use both racial politics and our movie knowledge to trick us into believing Seneca is the kindly, old, wise black character who always saves the day. Upon his arrival, both the audience and the characters find great comfort in his warm and competent presence. And then…

  • Fright Night (2011)
  • How in the name of all that’s holy do you improve on a piece of cinematic perfection. Thanks to its suburban setting and an unforgettable turn by Roddy McDowall as a washed-up actor living off the dregs of his lost fame, Tom Holland’s 1985 original is pure ’80s horror bliss. His movie is so perfect that I intend to gay-marry it as soon as it’s legal.

    Well, all credit to the satisfying remake goes to screenwriter Marti Noxon. She held tight to what could work in a remake (a charismatic vampire moves in next door) and wisely revamped the rest. You can’t recreate Roddy McDowall’s magic, so instead of a washed-up horror movie star, we get a wealthy and insecure Las Vegas magician.

    Noxon and director Craig Gillespie also went for it with an R-rating that delivers any number of spectacular kills and set pieces filled without a countless number of cool and scary ideas. Fright Night (2006) is not just frightening and entertaining; it’s intelligent.

    Another box office disappointment that time will redeem.

    4. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

    Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original is the stuff of nightmares. The remake comes pretty damn close.

    The big difference between the two is that the original looks and feels like a YOU ARE THERE documentary. The remake is all Hollywood, but one with an atmosphere filled with trauma and dread. It also has the courage of conviction to honor the original by putting its characters through gory hell.

    3. The Thing (1982)

    The 1951 original is a helluva movie filled with great actors, even better dialogue, legitimate scares, and a timeless theme about the disasters that befall those who trust cold, arrogant scientists who’ve lost their humanity.

    In 1982, John Carpenter, who loves the original, took the concept a step further. Instead of the alien being merely a monster, it’s a shape-shifter. The result is a balls-to-the-wall paranoid thriller filled with spectacular in-camera special effects and a second-to-none cast: Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, Richard Masur, T.K. Carter, Richard Dysart, and Donald Moffat.

    Even though it was released at the same time as E.T., I still can’t get over the fact this movie flopped. But it quickly found an audience on pay-TV and home video and is now rightly regarded as a classic.

  • The Fly (1986)
  • The 1958 original, with a screenplay written by, of all people, James Clavell, is not for the faint of heart. The opening scene is a true-horror heart-stopper. The gruesome central premise — a man (David Hedison) gets his DNA mixed with a housefly — is beyond unsettling. And nothing, and I mean nothing, will ever top that final scene.

    Twenty-eight years later, director David Cronenberg sure tried with a timeless masterpiece that delivers 96 minutes of dread, heartbreak, and unforgettable shocks.

    This is one of those rare movies where what you see is worse than what you could have imagined.

  • The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
  • Wes Craven’s 1977 original is one of the most brutal and brutally terrifying movies ever made. With no real budget to speak of, Craven dropped a typical American family into the middle of the desert and had them attacked by cannibal mutants. It is unsparing, unrelenting, and glorious.

    When the remake was announced, I rolled my eyes. No way would Hollywood have the guts to do it justice. No way could anyone stuff another round of lightning in a bottle.

    Oh, brother, was I wrong.

    The remake’s first half is jaw-droppingly terrifying and brutal.

    The second half is even better.

    I’ve read that director Alexandre Aja wanted the second half to explore George W. Bush/Iraq War-era themes about the emptiness of rah-rah patriotism and how civilized, middle-class Americans are just as capable of brutality as anyone else—especially in the *wink-wink* desert. Well, that might have been the idea, but the movie does not play that way. Instead, it’s one of the most satisfying and scary revenge thrillers you’ll ever see. And that this righteous violence is delivered by a gun-hating liberal (a superb Aaron Stanford) makes it even better.

    Back in 1977, Craven had you walking out of the theater feeling like someone had bruised your soul. In 2006, Aja had you walking out admiring the courage of a man willing to do anything to protect his family, or at least what was left of it.

    The performances are also worthy of note, some of the best you’ll ever see in the slasher genre. Kathleen Quinlan, Ted Levine, Vinessa Shaw, Dan Byrd, Tom Bower, Emilie de Ravin, and especially Robert Joy are 100 percent committed and make you believe every frame.

    Side note:Night of the Living Dead (1990) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) deserve a spot on this list, but I’ve already written about them this month.

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    John Nolte